Like the plot of the 1998 film "Armageddon" starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are teaming up for a mission that will test the possibility of deflecting an Earth-bound asteroid by crashing it with a spacecraft.
The joint project, dubbed as Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) will determine if NASA and ESA have the capabilities to save Earth from a future collision course with an asteroid, Space Flight Insider reported.
The representatives from the two agencies presented the details of the AIDA mission during the recent European Planetary Science Congress held in Nantes, France.
For the first phase of the mission, which will begin in October 2020, ESA will launch the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) probe and send it to Didymos, an asteroid with a diameter of 750 meters.
The objective of AIM is to study Didymos and its natural satellite Didymoon. The probe will collect data regarding the two asteroids' size, shape and other dynamic properties. It will also investigate the objects' internal structure through its MASCOT-2 lander, which is capable of receiving and transmitting radio signals.
According to Dr. Patrick Michael, the head of ESA's AIM Investigation Team, the information that the probe will collect will be vital in gaining a deeper understanding of asteroids.
"To protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts, we need to understand asteroids much better - what they are made of, their structure, origins and how they respond to collisions," the scientist said according to Sci-News.
AIM will carry out its data-gathering mission for two years before the second phase of the AIDA mission begins. In October 2022, NASA will launch its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft on a collision course to Didymoon.
Positioning itself at a safe distance, AIM will then observe the effect of DART's impact on Didymos' natural satellite. The probe will analyze the materials that will be ejected as a result of the explosion and also see if the impact will change Didymoon's orbit.
"AIDA will be the first mission to study an asteroid binary system, as well as the first to test whether we can deflect an asteroid through an impact with a spacecraft," Dr. Michael explained.
Project AIDA is only one of the missions that is being considered to use against a potential asteroid impact. Other alternatives include using powerful magnets, gravity tractors and ion thruster beams to change the course of an oncoming asteroid, according to The Space Reporter.